KGB review

The Good:
  • Rich historical perspective
  • Attractive, detailed graphics
  • Compelling real-time gameplay concept
  • Smuggling ring storyline is intriguing
The Bad:
  • TOO MUCH (dull and heavy) history
  • Story becomes super-convoluted once politics enters
  • Massive plot holes
  • Contrived ending
  • Complicated, tedious gameplay
  • Punishing fail clauses
Our Verdict: Though commendable for its ambition and extensive insight into a fascinating era, KGB is corrupted by too much tedious gameplay and punishing design. Investigate this cold case at your own risk.

KGB starts with a bang.


In a blood-red full motion video, an unknown assailant breaks into an office and guns down ex-KGB officer and alleged private eye Pyotr Golitsin as he works at his desk. The attack isn’t unexpected: Golitsin kept his own gun close at hand, but the precaution yields naught at the fatal moment. Soon after, Captain Maksim Rukov is summoned by his boss, Major Vovlov of KGB Moscow, and assigned to investigate the murder – specifically, to ascertain whether it’s linked in any way to Golitsin’s past employment with the KGB.

Cryo's KGB is a slideshow-style point-and-click adventure game that unfolds from Rukov’s perspective as his investigation sets him on the trail of an international crime ring exporting snuff video tapes – films of young women abused and murdered for real on screen – in exchange for cocaine smuggled in from Europe. But each clue he unravels draws him deeper into a conspiracy of powerful vested interests who crave not just illegitimate money, but the ultimate weapon – absolute political control – in a rapidly destabilizing nation.

It’s an interesting premise that is quickly lost in information overload. Set in 1991, the game entwines real events of the period into the story at an alarming pace that will leave gamers unfamiliar with the history of the Soviet Union (particularly the factors that led to its eventual collapse) in way over their heads. In a situation akin to being lost at sea – water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink – numerous characters and plot points vie for attention and explanation that isn’t forthcoming either from rookie Rukov or his contacts, who are always too busy to clearly state their agendas or answer his questions. Players thus have no choice but to plod along with Rukov through his mundane journey of inventory puzzles and tedious conversations amidst double- and triple-crosses to a contrived, haphazard end.

The eventual destination of the tapes is the USA, a lucrative market that represents the glittering ‘West’ to a sizeable chunk of the Soviet population chafing under the shackles of communism and desperately hungry for American dollars, Cuban cigars, and perestroika, then-President Mikhail Gorbachev’s promise of political and economic reforms intended to liberalize the government’s policies, end the Cold War, and improve the quality of life for the average Russian. But not everyone is excited about free trade and free speech. The opposition considers these revolutionary ideas a threat to the very essence of the Soviet Union, meticulously nurtured to reflect the supremacy of the state over individual rights and needs. These people – powerful leaders in the bureaucracy and the omnipotent KGB, as well as ordinary citizens – are alarmed by the growing influence of the West, spiraling costs of commodities, and rapidly-spreading anarchy across the nation.

After discovering a coded message indicating the time and place for the latest exchange of contraband, Rukov is dispatched to Leningrad to spy on the meeting, along with the warning to be wary of the local KGB, many officers of which are suspected to be pro-liberalization and corrupt. As expected, Rukov immediately faces quiet yet persistent resistance from the local operatives, who appear to be involved in crimes ranging from running prostitution rings to anti-government activities, leading one character to blandly remark that if all corruption was rooted out of the KGB, hardly any staff would be left. His advice? To focus on ‘relevant corruption’, that which poses a threat to the nation, rather than petty crime.

Rukov is aided in his investigation by his controller, the sadistic Savinkov; a mysterious entity called Cut-Throat; and a CIA operative who represents the American investigation into the case. The trail of the tapes leads Rukov from one dangerous situation to another – from seedy bars to dusty warehouses and swanky hotels, plus a trip out to the open sea in a rickety fishing boat to witness the actual ‘drop’. Originally released in 1992, the game earns its alternate title Conspiracy – the name it was re-released under in 1994 – as the case then twists again, veering wildly from straightforward crime to a more heinous political conspiracy to overthrow the liberal government and restore the Soviet Union to its conservative, communist glory.

Playing this game in 2010, nearly two decades after its creation and the fall of the Soviet Union, is like watching an eerie documentary of those turbulent years. Many issues are touched upon: the inherent distrust between the KGB and the Soviet militia; the derision between the various departments of the KGB; assassinations of people deemed to have ‘learnt too much’ and torture of civilians by the secret police; the scarring, decade-long war with Afghanistan; the emergence of aggressive ultra-national organizations such as the anti-Semitist Pamyat; the failed attempt by the KGB to overthrow Gorbachev; and the all-pervasive distress and misfortune of the common people. Unfortunately, the historical facts, though morbidly fascinating, prove to be the undoing of this game. They infringe on the story, needlessly complicate the plot, burden a protagonist too naïve to grasp their importance, disorient the gamer, and derail the premise of the smuggling ring which could have held its own if properly fleshed out.

The story is divided into four chapters, one set in Moscow and three in Leningrad. Rukov has to follow and talk to other characters to extract information about the case and current affairs. He can look at and use various objects in each scene and add some to his inventory, either to combine or apply later to external items. There is no pixel-hunting, the inventory is manageable despite harboring some useless junk, and the object use is limited and obvious. The default smart cursor decides the most obvious activity for each item, but players can choose additional actions like Hide, Fight, Listen and Knock by right-clicking on a hotspot. There is a map to help with orientation, though given the straightforward arrangement of locations, it’s never a real requirement.

Continued on the next page...

What our readers think of KGB

Posted by Harald B on May 19, 2012

Not my cup of tea, but I love it anyway

Before I heap on too much praise, know what you are getting into: this is a serious game with death around every corner. If you take it seriously, keep track of what's going on and plan your moves carefully, you might just live another day and go further...


Adventure games by Cryo

Salammbô: Peril in Carthage  2003

The proud city of Carthage has been overthrown by Rome, its arch-rival.

Arthur’s Knights (Series)

Arthur’s Knights (Series) 2002

Bradwen, the illegitimate son of the King of the Atrebates, returns home to claim the throne.

» View all games in this series

Mystery of the Nautilus  2002

Also known as Secret of the Nautilus » Full game details
Versailles (Series)

Versailles (Series) 2002

Versailles, 1700: The affair causing a stir throughout the kingdom of France and all of Europe is the Spanish succession.

» View all games in this series
Atlantis (Series)

Atlantis (Series) 2001

Travel in time and step into the world of Atlantis, a civilization rich in wonder and sophistication.

» View all games in this series

Timescape: Journey to Pompeii  2000

Also known as Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius » Full game details

The New Adventures of the Time Machine  2000

The concept of time has always fascinated man.

» Full game details

Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses  2000

Take a voyage filled with danger and discovery.

» Full game details
Egypt (Series)

Egypt (Series) 2000

Heliopolis, the City of the Sun and one of the most important capitals of Egypt is in crisis, as a terrifying epidemic threatens to destroy this prestigious city.

» View all games in this series

The Sacred Amulet  2000

Also known as Aztec: The Curse in the Heart of the City of Gold » Full game details

China: The Forbidden City  1999

It’s early one summer’s day in the year 1775.

Ring (Series)

Ring (Series) 1999

Destroyed long ago by an alien species from distant space, what was once home to the human race has been reduced to rubble.

» View all games in this series

Zero Zone  1998

It’s the year 2098 in Megatown, a sprawling city populated by Bios and their slaves, the Cybers.

» Full game details
Dragon Lore (Series)

Dragon Lore (Series) 1996

The Hordes from the Land of Nightmares stand ready to attack.

» View all games in this series

Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure  1995

On a distant, isolated space outpost halfway across the galaxy, an unspeakable evil stirs.

» Full game details

Lost Eden  1995

The Lost Eden, an alternative prehistoric past where man and dinosaur co-exist.

» Full game details

Dune  1992

In the year 10,191, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice Melange.

» Full game details

KGB  1992

Also known as Conspiracy